Varicose and other vein problems - self-care
Blood flows slowly from the veins in your legs back to your heart. Due to gravity, blood tends to pool in your legs, primarily when you stand. As a result, you may have:
- Varicose veins
- Swelling in your legs
- Skin changes or even a skin ulcer (sore) in your lower legs
Varicose veins - Animation
From the outside, your veins look like nothing more than a few faint blue lines under your skin. But inside your body, they work hard to transport blood from your organs to your heart. Sometimes, blood can get stuck in your veins and make them swell up so they really stick out. These swollen veins are called varicose veins. And if you have them, you may be putting a lot of effort into covering them up. Veins have valves in them that prevent blood from flowing the wrong way. They're kind of like the valves in your bathroom plumbing that prevent hot water in the water heater from backing up into the cold water supply. The valves inside your veins make sure that your blood keeps flowing in the right direction, toward your heart. But if those valves aren't working correctly, blood can back up and get stuck inside a vein. As the blood collects, the vein swells. So, what causes the valves in the veins to malfunction? Well, you may have been born with defective valves. Or, you might be putting on extra pressure on the veins in your legs if you stand for long periods of time, or you're pregnant. When you have varicose veins, you, and your doctor, should be able to tell just by looking at them. They look like raised, thick blue or purple veins. Varicose veins can also make your legs ache and your ankles swell. So, how are varicose veins treated? Well, first, your doctor will recommend rest and support for your varicose veins. Avoid standing for long periods of time, and prop up your feet on a pillow or box whenever you sit. Wearing elastic support hose can also help. If you're in a lot of pain from your varicose veins, or their appearance really bothers you, your doctor may recommend a treatment such as lasers to minimize the veins. Or, you may have a type of surgery called vein stripping. During this procedure, the surgeon threads a thin, plastic wire into each varicose vein and then pulls the vein out. At first, varicose veins are more of a cosmetic problem than a health issue. But over time, they can get worse. Some people develop sores, inflammation from phlebitis, clots, or their varicose vein breaks. Talk to your doctor if you have varicose veins, especially if they hurt or they don't improve from wearing support hose or staying off your feet. Call your doctor right away if you have intense pain, swelling, fever, or a sore on your leg.
These problems may get worse over time. Learn self-care that you can do at home to:
- Slow down the development of varicose veins
- Decrease any discomfort
- Prevent skin ulcers
Wear Compression Stockings
Compression stockings help with swelling in your legs. They gently squeeze your legs to move blood up your legs.
You wear compression stockings to improve blood flow in the veins of your legs. Compression stockings gently squeeze your legs to move blood up your...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Your health care provider will help you find where to buy these and how to use them.
Make Time to Exercise
Do gentle exercises to build muscle and to move blood up your legs. Here are some suggestions:
- Lie on your back. Move your legs like you are riding a bike. Extend one leg straight up and bend the other leg. Then switch your legs.
- Stand on a step on the balls of your feet. Keep your heels over the edge of the step. Stand on your toes to raise your heels, then let your heels drop below the step. Stretch your calf. Do 20 to 40 repeats of this stretch.
- Take a gentle walk. Walk for 30 minutes: 5 times a week is best, but anything can help.
- Take a gentle swim. Swim for 30 minutes: 5 times a week is best, but anything can help.
Put Your Feet up
Raising your legs helps with pain and swelling. You can:
- Raise your legs on a pillow when you are resting or sleeping.
- Raise your legs above your heart 3 or 4 times a day for 5 to 15 minutes at a time.
Do not sit or stand for long periods of time. When you do sit or stand, bend and straighten your legs every few minutes to keep the blood in your legs moving back to your heart.
Take Care of Your Skin
Keeping your skin well moisturized helps it stay healthy. Talk with your provider before using any lotions, creams, or antibiotic ointments. Because of possible side effects, do not use:
- Topical antibiotics, such as neomycin
- Drying lotions, such as calamine
- Lanolin, a natural moisturizer
- Benzocaine or other creams that numb the skin
Watch for skin sores on your leg, mainly around your ankle. Take care of sores right away to prevent infection.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider if:
- Varicose veins are painful.
- Varicose veins are getting worse.
- Putting your legs up or not standing for a long time is not helping.
- You have a fever or redness in your leg.
- You have a sudden increase in pain or swelling.
- You get leg sores.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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